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“AtariBox” Becomes Atari VCS

View Nelson Schneider's Profile

By Nelson Schneider - 07/14/19 at 09:01 PM CT

During E3 2017, Atari (delenda est), one of the first-and-worst game console manufacturers, announced that they were coming back from obscurity with a new hardware device. All of 2018 rolled by without a whisper about the so-called “AtariBox,” and those of us with an understandable burning hatred for Atari (delenda est) were content to believe that the new abomination had transformed into vaporware and floated away like a bad dream with the coming dawn.

However, Atari (delenda est) was back again at E3 2019, and while they didn’t put on a big press conference (because that would require money they don’t have), they did have a physical presence, where they showed-off the near-final AtariBox, now with the official release name “Atari VCS” (presumably short for Video Computer System, as it was back in the 1970s).

Unlike Nintendo’s successful mini retro-consoles (and Sony’s and Sega’s dismal failure mini retro-consoles), the Atari VCS is emphatically NOT a mini retro-console, despite the obvious nostalgia-inducing design of the case. Instead, the Atari VCS is a small-form-factor PC running an x86/x64 AMD Zen-based APU and Linux. For those seeking a more appliance-like experience, the Atari VCS will have a clean console-like UI where users can purchase the “Atari Vault,” as well as a lightly curated selection of other x86/x64 Linux games… that will run acceptably on an AMD Zen APU. The Atari VCS doesn’t come with any controllers in the box for its $250 asking price, however, a modern X-input rip-off controller as well as a retro-inspired one-button joystick will be sold separately.

The Atari VCS will also include a “sandbox” mode, which will allow users to swap-out the hardware to their hearts’ content, as well as boot any OS they choose, including Windows. The system architect for the Atari VCS has gone on record stating that the company wants the Atari VCS to become “the Raspberry Pi of the living room,” with all the openness and tinker-friendly features of those ARM-based mini-computers, only with an x86/x64 system underpinning the whole thing.

As much as I hate Atari (delenda est), the things they’re offering with the Atari VCS actually appeal directly to my current gaming sensibilities. I love the idea of an open system. I love the idea of a small-form-factor appliance-like device that runs real x86/x64 software instead of ARM trash ported over from mobile phones. Unfortunately for Atari (delenda est), there’s already a platform that does all of these things, and does them way better than an underpowered, anemic Linux box: A mini-ITX Windows PC. Furthermore, anyone who is interested in the features and capabilities of a Raspberry Pi in the living room will just buy a Raspberry Pi and set it up for use in the living room.

While the concept of the Atari VCS is the type of thing that needs to find a foothold in the modern gaming zeitgeist, as a direct counter to the Cloud-based, DRM-riddled future that the likes of Google and Microsoft would foist upon us, Atari (delenda est) has a long, hard, uphill battle ahead of it. Gamers need to develop an appreciation for open platforms. They need to demand access to their save data and locally-stored game data. I just don’t think Atari (delenda est) is the company that will lead gamers to the Truth they so desperately need to see.

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